I have always had a special bond with Maroon 5’s debut album, Songs About Jane. This was a record I discovered without any peer recommendations. I had never heard it on the radio or seen it in spiraling towers of promoted CDs inside music stores.
I was in a music megastore in Dubai. As any teenager who didn’t have regular access to such a variety of media in one place, I embraced this candyland with gusto. During my four hours of browsing and previewing music, I came upon Songs About Jane in the alt-rock section. The songs I previewed were ‘Shiver’, ‘Sunday Morning’, and ‘Tangled’, and I loved each one of them. I loved that the vocal harmonies on ‘Shiver’ sounded like a mop of uncombed hair- haphazard, edgy, yet bearing a identifiable style. I loved Adam Levine’s breathless intonation on ‘Tangled’; not quite the gasping falsetto of Matt Bellamy but rather like sweaty fatigue on a hot summer’s day. Most of all, I loved that Maroon 5’s combination of wah-wah guitars, creative harmonies, and generous use of pianos and organs made me feel like I was listening to music through a sepia filter.
In that moment of realization, the name Maroon 5 suddenly made a lot of sense.
At no point did Maroon 5 feel overexposed. The lyrical subtlety on ‘Must Get Out’ was an example of how even break-up cliches, when combined with solid poetic metaphors, can avoid being cringe-worthy.
“Fumbling through your dresser drawer
Forgot what I was looking for
Try to guide me in the right direction”
Whether in naming their new album Overexposed Maroon 5 are attempting irony, I do not know. But overexposed is definitely the right adjective to attach to this album. I quite liked Allison Stewart’s punny description of it in the Washington Post: “a hit-seeking missile’. This missile seems poorly designed and hastily engineered. As if ‘Payphone’ wasn’t bad enough, song after song on Overexposed resembles a glitter-festooned, teeny bop party full with sounds that batter their eyelashes at radio airtime. To their credit, no stone in the process is left unturned. The 128 bpm, 4 by 4 beats, pulsing synth bass lines, melodic hooks, and guest appearances by other artists- all staples of a contemporary pop record- are all there. The track ‘Wipe Your Eyes’ even features a sample from Amadou & Mariam’s ‘Sabali’ a la Nas and Damian Marley’s ‘Patience’. There is a terrible piano-ballad thrown in for good measure as well. Quite hilariously, it is called ‘Sad’. I suppose Maroon 5 don’t want to leave anything to the listener’s imagination anymore.
Unlike Coldplay, Maroon 5 have left behind their rock roots, jumped onto the star-power jetpack of Adam Levine, and made it their mission to be the sound that plays on repeat in frat houses. I don’t doubt their professional integrity as musicians. I simply feel let down as a fan who liked them for their unique sound on Songs About Jane. In Overexposed, Maroon 5 may have reached a point of no return. Like a drug hit, pop success will give them an immediate high. Adam Levine’s public presence and their new sound will ensure that. However, like a drug hit, the aftermath will feel like an inescapable low. After all, the tragedy of pop music is that a lot of it becomes irrelevant in no time. Whether you’re an established pop superstar or a one-hit wonder, your music and its popularity is determined by the whims of the market.
And while fans make the market, the market does not resemble fans. I miss you, Maroon 5.